From the October 1999 issue of Startups

If anyone's prepared to own a business, it's Clare Levy. After all, the 33-year-old Odyssey Art Centers franchisee essentially started her training when she was 7 years old.

At Odyssey, elementary and middle school students learn about different historical periods while creating everything from Renaissance-style frescoes to replicas of ancient Shang vases. As a child, Levy took the classes from founder and artist Linda Perlmutter, who opened the first center in 1973.

Last year, Levy journeyed back to Sleepy Hollow, New York-based Odyssey and reunited with Perlmutter. "It was a good coincidence," says Levy. "She needed me to work in the studio, and I needed time to figure out what I wanted to do."

Opening an Odyssey Art Centers franchise of her own in Ossining, New York, was the next natural step for Levy. "This has brought together a lot of different areas of my background," says Levy, who had clients lined up before she even opened her studio in July. "I've always worked with children [in various capacities]. I'm also a creative person; I've always been interested in art and art history."

A teaching or art degree isn't required to become an Odyssey franchisee, but you do need a talent for working with different media and an interest in working with children. Perlmutter will walk you through the rest until you're a seasoned "artrepreneur."

But what's really gotten Levy's creative juices flowing? "The thing I like the most is working with the children and watching them progress," she says. "It's great to see them take pride in their artwork." Start-up costs for an Odyssey Art Centers franchise are $24,000.

Mexing It Up

It's highly unlikely anyone would ever accuse Rodney Anderson of being afraid to get his hands dirty. The founder and president of Iowa City, Iowa, franchisor Panchero's Mexican Grill has spent the past seven years with his sleeves rolled up, at times spending 80 to 90 hours a week crafting the perfect Fresh Mex menu and learning the fine art of running a quick-serve restaurant.

That hands-on experience has given Anderson an edge in an industry where Fresh Mex-style menus are cropping up left and right nationwide. "It was really important for me to jump in and fully operate the restaurant myself," says Anderson, who founded Panchero's with his father's help immediately after earning an MBA at the University of Chicago in 1992. "I learned the concepts that would make my business profitable instead of starting it with a lot of overhead and just watching from a distance."

His experience has also given him perspective. Anderson, a Chicago native, actually started Panchero's as a traditional Chicago tacqueria-style restaurant. Recognizing the growing Fresh Mex trend, however, he altered his menu to include char-grilled, made-to-order fare, along with homemade tortillas that are pressed fresh with each order.

Good idea. Panchero's is set to expand nationwide, with at least 75 new units to be developed in the Midwest during the next five years, including 20 in the Chicago area that were sold to a franchise group. Anderson, 31, also plans to sell individual franchises, area agreements and conversion franchises. (Start-up costs for an individual franchise are about $200,000.)

But Anderson doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon. "It's an advantage to be young and flexible," he says, "hungry and willing to make sacrifices for your business."

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